First Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
7The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-10
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment.
5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
According to the Internet, “When asked which items they misplace at least once a week, the most common lost items (in order) is revealed as – TV remotes (45%), phones (33%), car & keys (28%), glasses (27%), shoes (24%) and wallets/purses (20%) Americans are spending 2.5 days a year looking for lost items.” Turn to your neighbor and share which item you are most likely to misplace? Where do you usually find it?
Let us pray, Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and Redeemer.
SERMON: Lost and Found
Last week, Jesus was pretty blunt with us. “Whoever,” and that includes you and me, wants to be his disciple must prioritize God over family, prioritize God’s values in how we carry our burdens, and we must count the cost as we set our hearts to fight with someone rather than forgive. Those were heavy words. We don’t like the word “hate” and have trouble internalizing that truth. In today’s text, that directly follows last week, Luke says that crowds of tax collectors and sinners are gathering around Jesus as he speaks. I bet they know what it means to be hated! That message hit home. The Pharisees and teachers of the law are muttering. They are struggling, perhaps convicted, by this series of parables and are uncomfortable with the people they are having to associate with to hear Jesus. Hmmm. Jesus continues today with two more parables. Let’s ponder them.
Last week we talked about building towers or waging wars with others that we think are attacking us. I proposed that the modern day term might be “defriending.” We stop connection with others either willfully ignoring or willfully attacking. Today Jesus presents a different picture. He is looking not through our eyes of being offended and so cutting off relationship but through God’s eyes. Remember all are invited to the banquet. Now he shares about a shepherd who has lost a sheep and a woman who has lost a coin. We see that the connection between lover and beloved has broken down. This is not a story of a shepherd who cut off communication with a disobedient sheep but a shepherd who is trying to get his sheep to respond but the phone lines seem to be down. The sheep is lost, out of communication.
We know the picture. The sheep who has gone astray may be entangled in a bush so cannot respond when the shepherd calls it to follow. The sheep may have fallen over a cliff as in that famous picture. The sheep may be hurt and can’t walk. It is not necessarily true that the sheep is trying to get lost but life happens! Connection is broken.
I should like to add to this scenario with my insight from this week. My husband went into a memory care facility because he needs more care than I am able to give. I’m not trained as a nurse and he is, or was, 6 foot 6 inches. He has Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia so standing up and sitting down is very difficult. Doing it from a normal chair is impossible because he is so tall. Walking from point A to point B, making his legs move smoothly is almost impossible. They call it frozen gait. He has forgotten how to use a cell phone so I cannot call in and he cannot call out nor does he know how to answer. Communication as we have known it for 46 years has been broken. The disease has disrupted the nerve communication between brain and body.
I wonder if sin is not like that. I believe we struggle from birth because we are sinners, born disconnected from God. The spiritual dopamine in our spiritual brain is not working right and so communication with the Good Shepherd is a challenge. It may mean we have strayed due to our own willful stubbornness and have turned our back on the shepherd. It may mean we are captives to addictions that blind us. But it may mean we have a disease that disrupts communication with God. We call it sin.
I find comfort in this parable that the shepherd and the woman know whom theirs is. The shepherd knows one sheep is missing even if the sheep does not know and the woman knows a coin is lost. The burden of care lies in the heart of God.
Neither the shepherd nor the woman sigh and say “Ho hum, I’ll have to make due with what I have.” The host of the banquet is not happy that all who were invited did not come but sent servants out to seek guests. God invests in our salvation. He is not passive. He does not sit off in the sky and wait for us to work our way back to him or meditate our character into an acceptable shape to be admitted. The Shepherd and the woman actively seek the lost.
The word “leave” implies process to me and I find that comforting. Often in testimonials, it feels to me like the person shares the moment when the light bulb turns on and they believe, “accept Jesus as their Savior.” Some immediately turn from their “sin” and feel welcome in the arms of God. We can picture the lamb on the shoulders of the shepherd. But leaving can also be a process. As we labor in prayer for someone we care about who seems lost, let us never cease praying and may we never doubt that God is seeking our loved one. No one is beyond God’s power to find. I have told you that I love the picture of a handshake. In that mysterious relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep that can be pictured as a handshake, when we don’t remember who we are, when we are blinded by diseases like Alzheimer’s, when we are despairing and suicidal, when we have Down’s syndrome and don’t understand as many do…in all those situations that are so hard to grasp, God’s hand holds on to us in our darkness.
Now for those of us who think we are the 99 who feel sometimes God has left us to be present with refugees caught in war, girls sold into human trafficking, people crying from jails…all those scenarios that we are sure God cares about more then us, I would suggest leaving does not mean abandoning. The evil one loves to sit on our shoulder and whisper words of doubt that God is not in our neighborhood. Evil loves to discourage us from prayer, from sharing our faith yet again, from singing hymns or turning on the radio or going for a walk. We are not abandoned. Jesus in the incarnation was visible and in a location but remember how he cured the Centurion’s servant from a distance? God is not like us but the parable speaks of a Shepherd to comfort us that he knows where we are, when we suffer and he care about us and our loved ones. He comes to us.
Perhaps the question that we see in this text that we read during Pentecost is to ask if we are willing to leave the security of the flock to reach out to a “lost sheep.” We are not the Good Shepherd but we are his servants responsible for caring for his sheep, even the lost ones! Perhaps there is someone you could reach out to this week.
Lays it on his shoulders
God or the woman are aware when a lost connection has broken communiation and a sheep or a coin is lost. They leave and begin searching for the lost. Thirdly the Shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulder. Having been lost, healing may take time. Are we willing to lay the recovering on our shoulders and carry them until they are strong again? As I get older I find I have less flex with the ups and downs of youth, the immature understanding of how faith works. It all seems so logical to me because I have had years to grow in faith. Tradition is such a good support when we are discouraged but it can also create walls as we expect others Christians, the young and the hurt, to live their faith in the same way we do. Laying on the shoulders of Jesus is the process of discipleship, of growth, of learning to walk the walk and talk the talk. When we are weak, we lean on Jesus!
How broad are our shoulders today? Again we must ask ourselves if we are willing to forgive the immaturity of those younger in faith or do we demand their faith look like ours? It is a fair question. I sometimes suspect that the popularity of media church, be that streaming or TV evangelists or zooming, which served us so well during the pandemic also helps the differently challenged, the old, and the insecure who feel inadequate to appear in our churches. Our text challenges us to be aware of the woundedness of those returning from being lost.
The woman does not leave the lost coin in the dark corner or under the couch but picks it up, brushes it off, and calls her neighbors to rejoice with her. The Shepherd returns the lost sheep to the flock and the angels rejoice. Jesus concludes, “10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And so we come full circle. Are we standing with the tax collectors and sinners rejoicing that we are welcome because we know our sin and it is ever before us and we know what it is like to be hated and lost or are we grumbling with the Pharisees and scribes, feeling forgotten and a bit miffed that Jesus is not patting us on the back for trying so hard to be faithful?
American misplace at least once a week,
- TV remotes (45%) – our connection with news and entertainment
- phones (33%) – our connection to family and friends
- car & keys (28%), – our connection with transport
- glasses (27%) – our connection to seeing clearly
- shoes (24%) – our connection with exercise and travel outside
- and wallets/purses (20%) – our connection with financial independence.
May we never loose our connection with the compassion for the lost, with the willingness to reach out and share, and with our tolerance of the immaturity of others as they heal and return to the flock. We cannot see the angels rejoicing over the fruits of our efforts but they are. May we follow the Good Shepherd and be good servants imitating him this week. May we not be found muttering about the people God puts on our pathway!
The people of God said “Amen!”